April 13, 2017
"Justice and Mercy are better served by commuting their sentences to life imprisonment."
WASHINGTON—Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development issued a statement this morning in response to the scheduled executions of seven men in 11 days in Arkansas. The state is planning to begin the executions on Easter Monday. Bishop Dewane joins the Catholic community of Arkansas, and people of good will across the country and around the world, in urging Governor Hutchinson to reconsider this plan.
"This Easter, let us ask the Lord for the grace to infuse our justice with mercy. May those in Arkansas who hold the lives of these individuals on death row in their hands be moved by God's love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the current plans for execution," Bishop Dewane wrote in asking for commutation of the sentences of those scheduled to be executed to life imprisonment.
In his statement, Bishop Dewane noted that Pope Francis called for "the global abolition of the death penalty," in his 2015 address to the U.S. Congress, where the Holy Father said, "I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. . . . [A] just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation." The Catholic Bishops of the United States have echoed this call for many years, including in their 2005 statement A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.
"It can be very difficult to think of mercy at a time when justice for unthinkable crimes seems to cry out for vengeance," Bishop Dewane commented, "[t]he harm and pain caused by terrible sin is real." Yet, he invoked Pope Francis' reflection that, "Jesus on the cross prayed for those who had crucified him: 'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do' (Lk. 23:34). Mercy is the only way to overcome evil. Justice is necessary, very much so, but by itself it is not enough. Justice and mercy must go together."